Friday, August 8, 2008

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog goes to Comicon

Hilarity ensues.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Time to get schooled.

Wizard 101 came to my attention a few months back and I kind of just let it slip by without paying much attention. It's billed as an MMO for teens and that pretty much limited my interest right away. That goes to show you how good my instincts are. While the game MAY be targeted to that audience it certainly isn't limited to said demographic. It turns out the game is very deep, has great production values and most of all, is pretty damn fun.

You start out as a young student brought into a school for magic ala the Harry Potter stories. In fact, the game has obviously drawn a lot of inspiration from those books as well as World of Warcraft. By answering a few questions reminiscent of the old school Ultima days, your wizard type is given to you. These include Fire, Life, Storm, Death and many other types of magic. Then it is off to see your school master to get acclimated to your new environs. Movement is very much like the standard MMO fare using either the WASD classic set up or the arrow keys. You gain quests by talking to various NPCs throughout the starting city. It sounds rather run of the mill so far, but stay with me.

Combat is decidedly different than other MMOs. It consists of "duels" in the center of a fixed combat area that comes up when you encounter an enemy. The player earns spells by gaining cards they can add to their spellbook, and their deck of cards can be customized at any time. New cards and spells are acquired via combat, exploration and quest solving. The battle plays out sort of like a Pokemon meets Magic the Gathering contest as you strategically use your cards against the enemy. You can summon monsters which have great animations, cast spells directly on foes, friends, or yourself, and use one time use adventure cards. The strategy comes in to play when developing your spellbook and your wizard type. Different types of wizards have access to different spells. The school of magic you specialize in is the most powerful, but you can have a secondary school to focus on too.

The combinations of schools are huge. On top of all that customization, you can gain loot and items to equip on your character that help him in battle and look really cool to boot. I only got to play up to about 4th level before I went to bed, but the initial outlook for this game looks really good. It is something different and unique. It also has a great style and appeal that speaks to gamers of all ages. The game is in open beta right now so if you want to give it a try, click here.

Edit: I forgot about the mini games! When your character is low on mana and health you can go back to the city and play mini games to earn it back quicker (you can also find health and mana wisps by exploring). These mini games are re imagined from well know games like Dig Dug, Bejewled and Castle Defense. They all fit nicely into the theme of the game and are a blast to play. So what are you waiting for? Give it a shot. The game client downloads really fast and the game runs nicely on a wide range of computers.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

That was me.

If you were wondering what that girlish squeal was just now, it was me after reading the latest producer blog for NHL 09. Here is the thing. The guys who have been developing the NHL series over the last few years get it. They know hockey inside and out and they also know how to create a compelling video game counterpart to the real life game. Here are some things you can expect from this year's version:

David Littman
Electronic Arts

Hey guys, David Littman here, Just wanted to say hi and sneak a couple of features out to everyone.

This is the most realistic game of hockey I have ever played in a video game. Obviously you guys will have to judge it for yourselves (and talk amongst yourselves about how we say that every year), but there are so many moments that just feel like hockey. We have balanced offense vs. defense to a point where there are some games where you will get lots of great scoring chances, and there are some games where you will only get a few. It all depends upon how you play.

More than ever you have to change up your style. Some CPU (and user) teams will play more of a trap style where you will have to dump and chase just to get the puck over the blueline. It is not a game of "take the puck down the wing all the time and gain the zone every time". You will also notice CPU defensemen are much more aggressive in front of the net, especially on the two higher skill levels. Even on Pro (default skill level) you won't always feel like you are on a power play like last year.

The other realistic part of the game is that for the first time I can remember, it is tough to get the puck out of your own zone. With the more aggressive CPU AI and the new forecheck strategies you can actually forecheck and cause turnovers. CPU players block passing lanes and sweep their sticks (which users can do also) to block and intercept passes that also make it tougher to leave your defensive zone. You can create your own breakout strategies to counter this, or like real NHL defensemen use the net as an obstacle, make smarter passes and when in doubt...dump it out. When an opposing team goes into a 3-2 style forecheck (3 forwards attacking the puck) which the CPU teams will do when they are down a goal with a few minutes left, dump the puck out (so you won't complain about catch-up AI).

Here are some other bits of info:

1. The default defensive control setting is:

Right stick is checking
Right bumper (R1 on PS3) is poke
Holding down the right bumper/R1 is an auto poke sweep
Holding down the right bumper/R1 and using the right stick is manual poke sweep

You can switch (basically reverse of above) to a different defensive control setting:

Right stick is defaulted to poke and sweep
Hold right bumper/R1 plus right stick to check

With the choice of control you can default to the set up you will use most. Some users check a lot, and some poke a lot. Checking is NOT easier this year (as I joked with Brian on a recent podcast). It is actually harder, and that is why Brian could not throw a check. happy We got rid of the hip checks and the big warping checks. Basically checking is similar to when you have the puck. Your left stick is your skates and skating direction, while the right stick is your upper body. Last year the right stick controlled your direction when hitting, so it just did not feel right. This also makes clearing the front of the net easier. Your defensemen can stand still and just use their upper bodies to clear the slot, while they still stay in position.

2. Loose pucks and one on one battles

This is the first video hockey game where I have seen users with the puck slow down on odd man rushes to see what plays develop and to see if they can bait the D-man into being overly aggressive. It is the first hockey video game I have seen where players bump and battle as they try and get loose pucks (there are way more loose pucks this year with our much improved puck physics and bounces, and blocked passing lanes).

3. Passing

Passing is not always tape to tape like last year. Although if you have a clear passing lane and you are facing the receiver, most passes will be great passes. We tried to put error on passing (based on passing attributes), and believe me, it is frustrating (there is a bit, but probably not as much as the realism junkies want). We did put more of a penalty on passes behind your back, and there is a huge penalty when trying to pass out of the one handed protect puck.

4. You can set period times by intervals of one (from 4 minute periods to 20 minute periods).

5. Demo - Yes we are doing one, and we are looking at giving you a small taste of Be a Pro, and a harder skill level.

Madden 09 Patch details

Ok, I took a hiatus for a while, but the petitions for the site return got to be overwhelming so I decided to come back. My first post back is just an update on the status of Madden 09. Not surprisingly, the game needs a patch. In this case two patches and downloadable content. At any rate, if EA actually delivers on their promises then this could end up being a really good game. Why they couldn't just wait until the middle of September to release the game is beyond me. Oh and yes, I realize that Madden cover is "shopped" as the kids like to say, but sue me. I don't care for Brett Favre.

Here is the update from Madden producer Phil Frazier:


There's been a lot of discussion around rosters and patches so i wanted to go ahead and post an update.

For those that manged to get an early copy, you may have noticed that a roster update was recently made available. Many of you also noticed that Brett Favre was listed as the 2nd QB for the Packers. This roster was posted up as a final test of our roster update capability. We're actually prepping a more final roster update that should be available on 8/11.

As for our roster update frequency... Our current plan is to update rosters about every two weeks. This could change based on major roster movement but expect us to drop rosters on an average of twice a month through the Super Bowl.

Yes, I'm finally going to discuss the state and details of the patch.

Regarding the patch status... Yes we submitted a patch to MS and Sony about a week ago. They are currently going through certification and all indications point to them going live some time next week. Please understand that it's very easy for issues with the patch to delay the release of the patch. For example, if MS finds a new bug with the patch, it would easily be delayed by 2 weeks. We're hopeful the patch will drop on or around 8/14.

What's in the patch?

There's a number of changes in this patch. Most would never be noticed by the average consumer but some were targeted at improving the experience as quickly as we could.

1. Changed default quarter length of online leagues to 5 minutes.
2. Solved a very rare stability issue that occured when using a couple of playbooks.
3. Eliminated a button mashing glitch during high latency online games.
4. Eliminated a stability issue that sometimes occured while viewing the player HUB in online leagues.
5. Fixed a tricky disc eject glitch that occured at specific points of online games.
6. Kick Return Tuning - made improvements to help reduce frequent long kick returns.
7. Safety Tuning - eliminated issue where safeties in deep zone coverage would sometimes not react to a run to their side.
8. The game skill slider for interceptions was tuned to amplify it's affect.

What about some of the other early feedback on the game? Keep reading, we're not done.

Patch #2 & DLC
Now that some details for patch #1 have been discussed, it's important to note that we're not done. We think it's very important to continue to improve the game even after it's release. We're actually very happy with the non-patched product but having the ability to patch the game to make it the ultimate experience is fantastic capability that we definately want to use.

We're already hard at work on the 2nd patch and are also evaluating releasing a FREE DLC. Here's a sneak preview of what you might expect in future updates.

Patch #2 Possibilities
Please understand this list is under construction and won't be finalized until we've received more feedback on the final game from the community.
1. Ghost Juking OOB fix - aka CPU players running out of bounds
2. CPU Accuracy tuning
3. Amplify the field degredation effect (the system is currently working but is hidden by some of our late added post effects)
4. Other post-release community feedback

DLC Possibilities
The same warning comes with this one. We're still evaluating these changes and are working hard to get them out as quick as possible.
1. Accelerated Clock
2. CPU Sliders (you would have the all new human sliders as well as a brand new screen of CPU sliders)
3. Legacy Gen Controller Config
4. Madden Community Gamerpics (a variety of gamerpics that will show what community you belong to. make sure your community managers know you want an OS gamerpic.)

We're targeting a mid-September release for patch#2 and the DLC but will give constant updates and screenshots as we progress.

I look forward to seeing all of your very constructive feedback next week when the game is released and will do my best to answer additional questions here.